Category Archives: Movie Review

MOVIE REVIEW: “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (2017)

It’s completely unfair to compare one movie to another in order to judge it, rather than letting it stand on its own merits, or lack thereof. In this instance, however, it’s impossible not to: Both this film, and The Fifth Element (1997) were written and directed by Luc Besson. While both films are very different, they also couldn’t be more similar. In essence, “Valerian,” serves as an example of how easy it would have been for “The Fifth Element” to go horribly, horribly, horribly wrong.

Yeah, yeah, I know that’s unfair. It’s also true. Moving on:

The film tells the story of Valerian and Laureline, an impossibly young couple of badass special ops/secret agent types for the government of the galaxy in the 28th century. They get called in to recover the last living example of an animal, and in the process get swept up in a great big conspiracy on an impossibly huge space station to….[sigh]…you know, there’s not really very much plot here. The conspiracy is primarily an excuse for running and jumping and shooting and ruminations on the salvific power of love, and also a small role for Rhianna. Not much else matters here, but it’s actually not dissimilar to Titan A.E. (2000), a crappy movie written by Joss Whedon and Ben Edlund. You’d think woulda been a slam dunk, but, nope. Likewise, you’d figure Besson revisiting the same general parameters of The Fifth Element would have been a slam dunk or at least a dunk, or, you know, at least a basket, but, nope, you’d be wrong about that, too.

I’m not gonna waste a lot of time on the plot. To be fair, The Fifth Element didn’t have a lot of plot either (Evil force wants to destroy earth for some reason. Cool guy and unbelievably gorgeous badass girl stop it, with help from a priest, hinderance from a Cajun billionaire, and random histrionics from Chris Tucker), but there it works and here it doesn’t. Why?

A large part of that is charisma. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne are no Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. I can’t stress that enough: Bruce Willis was at the peak of his Bruce Willisness at the time, which has, sadly, receeded with time. Milla, though never the greatest actress, has always oozed magnetism far in excess of her looks (And her looks are pretty great on their own). He had a tired-but-still-cockshure swagger, and she had a mix of vulnerable badassitude and innocent sexyness that you can’t help but like. And they seemed to like each other.

Dane and Cara, by contrast, exude no sparks whatsoever, and the film works best when they’re not sharing the screen. Cara is very pretty, and an a very successful model, edging into acting, pretty much just like Milla was twenty years ago, and a lot of her scenes aren’t bad, but somehow, she lacks the utterly va-va-voom quality. Dane is more of a cardboard standie than he is a character. His dialog sounds like he has no idea what his lines mean, and his delivery brings to mind an early, extra-stoned Keanu Reeves. He’s not nearly so handsome, though. His first scene involves him and Cara rolling over each other in a relative state of undress that is supposed to be sexy, but is somehow more chaste than a nun doing long division. Go figure. Besson generally has a good eye for casting, but here he’s completely off his game.

Apart from Rhianna – who is awesome – there are no side-characters of note to really pick up any of the slack. I can’t say enough good things about Rhianna, though. The closest Fifth Element analogue would be the Diva, but she’s much different, much expanded, and honestly the best thing about the movie, despite only being in it for about ten minutes. When she showed up, the energy level ramped up considerably, and I thought, “Oh, FINALLY, two thirds of the way through the movie finally found its feet,” but, nope. As soon as she’s gone, it falters again.

Another part of the problem is special effects. There are a ton of ’em here. I don’t think there’s a single FX-free shot in the entire movie, and it’s plenty-high quality, easily as good or better than Avatar. The character designs are much better than Avatar, and yet, somehow, it’s all so sugarless and bland. The CGI is rather gloomily-lit, which seems the convention of the day, though I’ve never understood why, and it’s hard to get worked up about the stuff we’re seeing, despite how expansive and expensive it is. Just as Cara arguably has a better body than Milla, and yet somehow lacks that certain special something that draws you to her, this movie has unquestionably better special effects that just kinda don’t leave much impression. “Yeah, they’re beautiful. Whatever. Next?” Just out of curiosity, I showed my mom – who has no interest in, nor understanding of Science Fiction – the trailers for The Fifth Element and Valerian, then asked her which seemed better to her. She immediabely picked Fifth Element because it was so much brighter, both visually and in tone. I can’t argue with that.

There’s a trend towards increasingly practical effects and sets thanks, mostly, to Disney’s new crop of Star Wars films, but it’d been going on for a while before that. Despite being 37 years old, The Empire Strikes Back, with its oldschool spectacle still looks pretty good, if dated. The far more recent prequels look like cutscenes from video games, and in another decade they’ll look like a trip to toontown. Seriously: Remember 25 years ago when Babyon 5 blew us all away visually? Have you seen it recently? Yikes! Painful. Likewise, Fifth Element has aged well, whereas this film, for all its cutting edge splendor, looks like, well, a Lucas film. That’s not a compliment.

The soundtrack is also disappointing. Eric Serra’s Fifth Element soundtrack is – if you can find a bootleg of it – still very good listening. Combining ethnic music, opera, hip hop, house beats, orchestral stuff, electronic stuff, and kitchen sinks, it was fairly experimental, but still melodic and reassuring enoguh to really drive the story. Even without the movie, it’s memorable. Alexandre Desplat’s Valerian score is a generic orchestral fare that continues the inexplicable current trend of soundtracks deliberately not drawing attention to themselves.

Besson’s obligatory ruminations on the God-like powers of love are present, but they’re hamstrung here, again, by the limp toast nature of our ostensible stars. Besson’s a good director. He even made me care a little bit about the couple in Angel-A (2006), which had about the least likely paring in film history, and not much story beyond “Believe in yourself,” and a semi-fallen angel who lures guys into the bathroom with promises of sex, then chastely beats them up and mugs them. How can he pull that off? How can he pull off a dorky concept like “Subway,” (1986, which I saw in the theaters back then, and which was my introduction to him) and somehow blow this? I dunno.

There are odd sutures in the screenplay that suggest it was re-written several times in a hurry, possibly on the fly while making the film. What are we to make of the scene where Valerian is given title to an entire kingdom/species, which has no payoff whatsoever? Or an extended introduction to the machine part of the space station, which we then never visit, and which has no relevance in the story? Those have got to be periscopes. There’s just oodles of exposition, too. Valerian rattles off his whole life in the lengthiest, clunkiest monologue in recent memory, but it’s supposed to sound conversational. The ships’ computer does the same thing about The City. It just keeps happening.

The film is not without its good bits. The opening montage, showing the evolution of The City from 1975 to the 24th century was every bit as effortlessly clever and effective as Besson is on a good day. Rhianna, as I said, was really good. The gag with the had made me laugh my ass off. There’s a chase sequence that consists almost entirely of a tracking shot behind a guy as he runs through a series of walls that’s the best set piece in the film. Some people really like the Big Market sequence, though I found it a little distracting and confusing. The point is that there’s some good stuff here, there’s just not really a movie to tie them together.

I realize that this hasn’t been a fair review, and that all my complaints basically revolve around this not being “The Sixth Element.” It’s true that I did expect it to be the same, yet better. What I didn’t expect was, “The Fourth Element:” The same, yet worse. Devoid of everything that made the original a hoot.

MOVIE REVIEW: “Panic in Year Zero!” (1962)

The only thing better than discovering a B movie you’ve never seen in a genre you like is discovering a good B movie in that genre. “Panic in Year Zero!” is a damn good movie. Damn good, I say.

Directed by, and starring onetime-superstar Ray Milland, and co-starring a pre-beach-movie Frankie Avalon, along with a cast of nobodies, it tells the tribulations off a normal American family in World War III. Well, a normal American family with a dad who slips into a watered-down Welsh accent, but, hey, whatever.

Despite having a budget of a couple hundred bucks, plus whatever was left over at the Craft Services table when the previous production wrapped, the movie uses it exceptionally well. “Low Budget” doesn’t mean “Bad,” and if you use your low budget effectively, it can give you qualities that a bigger, slicker film can’t. This movie uses its limitations excellently. I expected it to be yet another ‘Family escapes, then gets attacked my mutant monsters’ turd. Instead, I got an intelligent, well directed, pretty well acted movie that both shows the best qualities of the mid-century American can-do attitude, and also how thin the veil of civilization really is. It pulls off the juggling act of optimism,  pessimism, and and mild action all at the same time.

Much like Red Dawn (The 1984, not the crappy remake), we start out with normal slice-of-life as the family gets ready to go on a fishing trip for the weekend. Shortly after they get into the foothills, they start seeing flashes and hearing booms they mistake for lightning. The dad quickly realizes the truth, and we get the ONE special effect in the film (A matte of a mushroom cloud with the cast staring at it from the road).

From there the tension ratchets up. All the radio stations are dead. They find one from Bakersfield which seems perfectly normal, but it abruptly goes dead. They pull over at a payphone to try to call grandma, but can’t get through. They start getting nearly run off the road by cars hauling ass out of the city. They stop at a restaurant, which is packed with scared people and running out of everything. This being almost the ’50s, the dad hits on the idea of pulling off the highway and driving through some of the smaller towns that may not have heard yet. This works for a while.

What makes this work is that the dad is a decent all-American (though occasionally Welsh-accented) guy, determined to be fair and decent with everyone. He is burdened with being the only one in his family who really grasps what’s going on, however, and the lines between what he will and won’t do blur pretty quickly. Initially he pays for gas when they need a refill, and pays for groceries – this being before the idea that money is useless has really sunk in yet – but pretty soon he’s beating people up to take what he needs, then leaving behind as much cash as he thinks is fair to salve his consciousness.

At one point he starts a fire to create a traffic jam so he can get his car across the highway and down a dirt road on the other side. This causes one oncoming car to burst into flames, and the driver to be clearly injured, but dad don’t stop.

What keeps this from going all Breaking Bad is that he sees what’s happening. He’ll do anything to keep his family safe (And fails, because he is just a guy, not some superman or army vet who’s trained for this stuff). Example:

Wife: “You can’t be so hard on yourself.”
Dad [depressed]: “I killed two men.”
Wife: “I tried to kill them, too, I just wasn’t a good enough shot.”

Later on, when his son, Frankie Avalon, shoots a guy in the arm, he gets a little too worked up over it. “I could have blown his head clean off!” He likes his newfound power. Dad tears into it, talking about how the best part of civilization is gone, and how they’re going to have to do some uncivilized things to survive, “But I want you to hate it. Every time you have to do something bad to another man, it’s your duty to hate it, because that’s all there is left of civilization: What’s inside of us. If we lose that, we’re no better than them.”

Eventually, they manage to find a place to hid out in the mountains, and do pretty well there for a couple months, with only infrequent news by radio (They get five minutes of emergency broadcasts every two hours, on the hour).

Then the film gets unexpectedly vicious. Some wandering thugs attack the daughter. Mom scares them off with a gun. Dad and Frankie come back to the camp, later on and see Daughter crying and the mom looking forlorn and holding her close. Dad asks, “Did they…hurt her?”

Mom nods, yes.

I was dropjawed! This is an early ’60s adventure film. Teenage girls don’t get raped in these movies! They make it very clear that she did, though. She behaves in a tragic fashion in the aftermath, apologizing to her dad as if it’s her fault, talking about how she doesn’t want to go back to civilization because she’s ‘not the same,’ and so on.

In a run in with the same thugs later on, we discover that they’ve murdered four people, and are holding another teenage girl prisoner, using her as a sex slave.

Again: holy crap!

This girl is a better actress then the daughter, and telegraphs the trauma better. There’s an oh-this-is-just-wrong romantic subplot about Frankie developing a crush on her and putting the moves on her, but before I could even say, “Oh, God, no, don’t go all stupid on me now,” the girl completely shuts him down, and he realizes what he’s done.

Later on someone gets shot and they need a doctor. On the way, they hear on the radio that the enemy has surrendered. They manage to find a doctor, who insists they roll up their sleeves before they come in (“Can’t be too careful. Junkies are everywhere”). Even as its drawing to a close, the film maintains its dual viewpoints

Dad: “The war’s over! We won!”
Doctor [sarcastically] “Well ding, ding for us.”
Dad [put off]: “You have a very odd sense of humor.”
Doctor: “The war is over, over there, but that doesn’t change anything over here. Now, you stay on the back roads. And you keep your gun handy. Our country is still full of thieving, murdering patriots.”

So Dad manages to keep his family alive, if not safe. Or does he? the movie is a little ambiguous about that as well. We don’t actually find out if the person who got shot survives or dies. It’s implied that probably survived, it’s made clear that they have a good chance of surviving, but the film steadfastly refuses to give us a clear-cut happy ending. All we’re told is that we can not allow endings, only new beginnings.

Wow! This is strongly recommended.

There’s negatives, of course. Frankie looks like a teenager, and him viewing the disaster as a fast track to becoming a man is a neat twist, but he’s not good enough to quite pull it off. The daughter is just a plain bad actress. The mom is a bit of a schlub. Frankie spends two days in a car with open windows, and never gets as much as a follicle out of place. Damn, that’s some hair helmet he’s got going on there. The soundtrack – a big, bold, jazzy, swingin’ score – is completely inappropriate for the movie. “The Wilderness” is clearly a soundstage, and some of the day-for-night shots are painfully obvious.

From a modern perspective, the movie is pretty sexist. Women are victims. They can’t defend themselves. They’re baggage. A lot of viewers may find this offensive or insulting.

From the perspective of the time, though, I think this is pretty on the mark. Women were not trained to be self-reliant. Given that their lives were intended to be cooking, cleaning, and shopping, I think the movie actually acquits itself pretty well. Mom is eventually packing a gun, as is one of the girls. Two girls get raped, but they don’t go suicidal or completely catatonic. It’s made clear that they’ll survive and they still have worth. They’ve been violated, they’ve not been sullied.

Bottom line: This is actually a better movie than a lot of big budget World War III films. It’s a forgotten minor classic. Watch it.

MOVIE REVIEW: “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977)

There’s two kinds of James Bond movies: The good ones and the dumb ones. “The Spy Who Loved Me” is far and away my favorite of the dumb ones, and if I’m honest, it’s one of my favorite Bond films of all times.

That said, I was operating mostly on memory until yesterday. I’d videotaped it off of TV, trimmed for TV, full of commercial breaks, back around 1980, and as pretty much the only Bond flick I had, I watched it endlessly for a year or two. I honestly don’t think I ever saw the complete, uncut thing until this weekend. It was better than I remembered. I was pleasantly surprised.

Firstly, for a dumb film it’s not as dumb as I remembered. Apart from Kurt Jurgens’ dumb-but-cool Legion of Doom headquarters that rises out of the sea, they play the whole thing very straight. Even Jaws, the over-the-top murderous henchman, isn’t a cartoon. He’s genuinely frightening in some scenes (Such as on the train), he’s a seven-foot-tall freak of nature, insanely strong, and his unkillability just kind of seems believable.

Secondly, despite being a terrible, terrible actress, Barbara Bach makes an unusually strong partner in the film. As Bond’s more-or-less equal-and-opposite from the USSR, she’s not helpless, and contributes a good deal to the film in the first half. Watching her and Bond try to out-spy each other to get the MacGuffin was a lot of fun, and she does get the drop on him once or twice. When they’re partnered up in the second act of the film, she contributes less, and in the final act she’s basically a damsel in distress. That’s disappointing, and her whole “I’m going to kill you when the mission is over, James,” thing is resolved way too easily. Still, I’d say she’s easily the best Bond Girl since Tracy (1969) and prior to Natalya (1995).

Thirdly: The Liparus. It is the greatest and largest villain’s lair in the entire franchise, and even now, thirty-five years after I last saw the film, I’m in awe of it. It’s a life-size set with not one, but three full-sized submarine mock ups in it, and 1.2 million gallons of water. The final battle makes the ninja assault on SPECTRE’s volcano lair in You Only Live Twice seem like a minor tiff.

This is just an unspeakably lavish film in terms of set design. It’s the most Bondian looking Bond film ever. In addition to the Liparus, there’s Atlantis, the bad guy’s OTHER lair. (Yes, that’s right, the bad guy has TWO lairs!) The Naval Base office has a cool, slanted ceiling, is all pre-stressed concrete and glass walls, and must go back two hundred feet, and it’s only in one scene. The brig on the Liparus is equally huge, and again it’s only used once. The submarine sets – unrealistically huge – are pretty impressive. This whole thing just looks super-crazy-no-way-gonzo-over-the-top, and that’s honestly what we want, right? A bad guy who isn’t content to destroy the world, he’s going to destroy it with style.

In short, up until the one hour mark, it is a genuinely good Bond movie, which I think most people have forgotten. I know I did.

Right at the one hour mark, it turns into a live action cartoon, of course. I was watching it with my son when a motorcycle sidecar turns into a rocket. He said, “FINALLY,” with a kind of hilarious weariness. From then on, it’s just sillier and sillier – a submarine car, a supertanker that eats submarines, Jaws suddenly falling hundreds of feet off a cliff and just shaking it off, Kurt Jurgens attempting to start a nuclear war so that he can play Adam-and-Even in his new underwater civilization. It’s just dopey, and I’ll be the first to admit, but it does a surprisingly good job of selling itself. The Liparus sub-eater is so cool that I’m willing to overlook the 120 or so things that are wrong with it.

They take it a little too far on occasion – such as shooting a boat out the side of the Liparus like a rocket for no good reason, rather than just putting it in the water – which breaks the suspension of disbelief. Still: This is the dumb half of the movie that everyone remembers. What I think they don’t remember is that it’s really entertainingly dumb.

There’s a lot to like here. The direction is great, the action scenes cut together really well, and the Arch Villain’s plot is the first time in the franchise that anyone wanted to destroy the world just to play God. (Interestingly, the first irredeemably genocidally insane villain in Bondom is an environmentalist).  This is one of the very few films – two? Three? – that in any way deals with Bond’s pre-spy life, his dead wife gets a name check, and Bond’s reaction shows that he’s still messed up over it.

As that’s a neat scene, I’ll recount it: Bond and our Soviet agent meet at a bar (In Egypt! It was a very different, less fundamentalist world in 1977, and would remain so for about a year) and he immediately starts flirting with her. She rattles off a bunch of facts about him, “…has had many lady friends, but only married once -”
Bond [abruptly]: “That’s enough.”
Anya: “So you are sensitive, Mister Bond.”
Bond [Dryly]: “About some things. Thank you for the drink.” [Abruptly walks away without having touched it]

Of course there’s negatives. The soundtrack is a bit too disco-influenced. Bond’s “Hello, let’s bone” shenanigans come across almost like parodies of porn films, they’re so cringingly awful. As opposed to the charming guy with an undercurrent of menace, which is the way the character had always been played (And Moore is charming in this, by the way), he’s suddenly some kind of sexual superhero who’s mere presence causes women to swoon within seconds. Or, in one inexplicable scene, to sacrifice herself to save his life after just one kiss. To be clear: Bond has always gotten laid a lot, and I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s just done really badly here. Barbara Bach’s character is hopping in the sack with Bond just days after her long-term boyfriend was killed. “Ok,” you think, “It’s the 1970s. She’s a swinger or something, it means nothing.” Nope, they play it like she’s falling in love with 007. Kurt Jurgens is strangely underdeveloped as a supervillain. Why do they capture the third sub? They already have the two they need.

The movie goes way too Matt Helm in the last five or ten minutes. I’m being literal. One of the final fights resolves itself exactly like the one at the end of “Murderer’s Row,” in which an electromagnet is used to take out a henchman. The Escape Pod is rocket powered for some reason, and is a big round bed stocked with champagne and books and a premium sound system. The obligatory “The boss stumbles in on Bond in dilecto flagrante” scene honestly is smarmy in the same way the same scenes were smarmy for Dean Martin.

Cringe.

But this movie really is no end of fun, despite its legions of flaws.

A couple final notes:

Though it’s never openly stated, the bad guys would have gotten away with it. The only reason they don’t is because one of the bad guy’s people getting greedy and offering to sell secret MacGuffin technology to the superpowers. Had Stromberg’s staff been loyal, the good guys would never have known what was up, the plot would have gone off without a hitch, and everyone on earth would have died.  I like that.

This movie marked the first time anyone had ever seen a jet ski. They were in the prototype stage, and introduced to the public here (At this point called a ‘Wetbike’ because British people are bad at naming things)

This movie also marks the introduction of the Lotus Esprit. Bond’s car in the movie is one of only two working prototypes in the world at the time. Sadly, it didn’t really turn into a submarine.

Weirdly, the very next movie in the series has almost the exact same plot: Supervillain wants to wipe out the world so he can play God and start over with his hand-chosen Adams and Eves. Bond is teamed up with a spy (CIA this time), and the basic structure and progression of the story is almost identical. It involves Jaws. “Moonraker,” just outright sucks, though, and is nothing but live-action cartoon from start to finish.

Ok, I’m done. This is not the greatest movie ever made, but it is almost undoubtedly better than you remember, and well worth a watch on a Saturday night, if you’ve got nothing better to do.

MOVIE REVIEW: “Colossus: The Forbin Project” (1968)

It is the future! The year 1972…or 1975…or 1979, it’s a little unclear, but definitely some time in the ‘70s, as seen from 1968.

On the whole, it seems much nicer than the ‘70s we actually got: there’s no sign of Jimmy Carter, no wide ties, no loud leisure suits, no disco, no bell bottoms. Instead, this version of the ‘70s looks pretty much identical to the ‘60s: Skinny suits, reserved demeanor, a lot of optimism about technology, and a lot of cold war tension (Détente not being something envisioned in the ’60s). A Bobby Kennedy impersonator is president. (This film was made in the narrow window between when Bobby announced he’d be running and the time he was assassinated.)

In a supremely misguided decision, the entire nuclear defense and offence of our country is turned over to a computer buried deep in the Rockies. This computer is called “WOP-R”…oh, no, wait, different flick: This computer is called “Skynet,” no, wait…uhm…“Colossus.” Yes, it was called “Colossus.” It was designed and built by Dr. Charles Forbin, and the complex is Krell-sized and quite literally impenetrable. We see Forbin locking it up in the opening credits.

At a press conference at the White House, the president Kennedy the Second and Forbin introduce the system to the public, and explain generally how it works: It monitors the whole world to eliminate human error from the whole pesky “Nuclear War” thing, thus rendering us – and by extension, earth – safe forever. Curiously, the president refers to “Citizens of the World” in his speech, but not “My fellow Americans.” Typical, really. Hippies.

Anyway, while at the press conference, Colossus goes goofy and says “There is another system” over and over. The staff boot the reporters out, discuss the situation with the CIA and Forbin, and conclude that the Soviets have built their own Colossus (Called “Guardian”) working from stolen US information. “You’ve got a spy on your staff,” the CIA chief tells Forbin. This is an interesting plot element that is never revisited, and left dangling at the end, mostly because the political situation changes so fast that such things become irrelevant.

Colossus requests a connection to Guardian, and on the urging of Forbin and the Soviet director of the Guardian project – Kuprin – the governments reluctantly agree. The machines connect over phone lines or something, and quickly set about developing a mathematical language to communicate in. Everyone is excited about this – a whole lot of new stuff gets developed during the day or so they’re developing the language, including some babble about “Finite Absolutes” – but they start to wig when they realize the machines are now speaking in a language no one else can understand. It’s the machine equivalent of one of those unsettling languages identical twins sometimes speak in.

The US and USSR attempt to break the connection. The machines warn that action will be taken if they’re not re-connected immediately. The president and the Soviet leader refuse. Both machines launch nuclear missiles aimed at the other country. Neither country can do anything to shut ‘em down. After a stressful couple minutes, they agree to reconnect the computers. Colossus shoots down the Soviet missile, but the American one is too close for Guardian to do anything about by that point, and it destroys a town in northern Russia.

Colossus explains that if the connection is broken again, he’ll start nuking lots of towns. Guardian does likewise. Both governments lie to cover up the incident. Forbin and Kuprin head to Rome to discuss a way to shut their Frankensteins down, but the machines figure out what’s going on, and dispatch the KGB to kill Kuprin “Or else we will vaporize Moscow.” This they then do. (the KGB, I mean. Moscow is fine.)

Back in the ‘States, Colossus dictates terms to Forbin: 24/7 surveillance. In the few hours before this goes into effect, he sets up a covert method for the government to sneak information to him through a mistress. (“If you doubt that a man needs a woman, check your history banks, and art units”) Of course he doesn’t actually have a mistress, so he just picks the prettiest computer tech, “Cherry Forever” from “Porky’s.” Colossus agrees to give them privacy while they do it. In fact, they don’t really do it – not at first, anyway – they just lie around naked and exchange information (“Oh, is *That* what you call it!” boom-chicka-wah-boom-chicka-wah-wah), but they eventually get around to the sweet monkey love. It’s all entertainingly awkwardly chaste and proprieticious early on, though.

Colossus/Guardian has a voice synthesizer at this point (An uncredited Paul Frees, who’s really good. Easily the best Cylon ever. Way better than Gary Owens.) and the CIA and KGB are gradually sabotaging their respective ICBMs under the machine’s noses. Meanwhile, the Colossus staff attempt to pull a Star Trek, overpowering the computer by having it run some kind of perpetual counting program, or whatever. The computer merely says “You are fools,” and has those responsible shot. Nuclear missiles in the US and USSR are to be re-targeted at neutral countries so Colossus/Guardian can control the whole world.

Colossus demands to address the world, so they let it. It explains who it is, and how it’s in charge of the world, and how this is for everyone’s best. “Problems unsolvable for you are simple for me,” and “I was built initially to prevent war. This has been done. War is gone forever.”

Best line in the movie:

This is the era of peace. It can be the peace of untold prosperity, or the peace of unburied dead.”

As illustration, it reveals that it knew about the sabotage all along, and nukes the locations that the CIA and KGB are currently working on, killing thousands. Forbin – very reserved through the whole movie – utterly freaks the hell out.

Colossus tells Forbin that eventually he’ll come to love and be in awe of the machines, and that all humanity will as well.

Never,” Forbin says.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Man oh man oh man oh man, what a great movie! Seriously, I had some major misgivings about watching this one. I remembered it as being pretty disappointing, and I’m not convinced I’d seen it since 1979 or so, but MAN it’s great! Faaaaaaaaaar better than I remembered.

First of all, the direction is awesome! There’s lots of well-composed shots, there’s lots of camera motion, and all kinds of neat elements like overlapping dialog where people are talking at the same time, or dealing with background chatter, or what have you. The blocking of the group scenes – involving videophones, even! – is done so well that it appears effortless. If you’ve ever done any stage or TV work, you’ll know how hard that is to pull off with large interacting groups. Really, this whole movie seems effortless, and I’m pretty impressed by that. Director Joseph Sargent brought a lot of those same elements to “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” four years later (The good one, not the crappy remake), and to a lesser degree in the “Space” miniseries in 1985, and several of the better “ Invaders“ episodes in the ‘60s. He’s good.

How good? You’re effectively dealing with a movie here that takes place almost exclusively inside of three large rooms, with a lot of talking. It would have been amazingly easy to blow it, and end up in “Creation of the Humanoids” territory, but they don’t. Instead, they make a very conscious effort to play it in the same vein as a cold war thriller, like, say, Failsafe, rather than in the dopier vein of a period SF film. He makes this work so well that when the movie ventures outside its principle locations, you kind of want it to get back in there. This is the kind of film it would be ninety-nine times easier to do badly than to do well, and yet Sargent pulls it off very well indeed.

It’s a classic.

The cast is really solid, too: Hans Jorg Gudegast plays Forbin. He’s better known by his stage name of “Eric Braeden,” and even better known still as “Victor” from The Young and the Restless. He also played Irwin Rommel surrogate Hans Dietrich on “Rat Patrol.” He plays Forbin as an interesting mix of youthful idealism and reserved Werner von Braunism (If that’s a word. And if it isn’t it should be). He’s composed, very confident, very smart, very quick to grab any advantage that comes his way, and yet he doesn’t have much of an emotional life. When Colossus turns out to be more than he’d anticipated, he’s overjoyed. When it quickly gets out of hand, he’s annoyed, but treats it as an intellectual puzzle that he’s certain he’ll overcome eventually. It’s a game – telegraphed by him playing chess with Colossus at one point. As the movie goes on, he gets a bit more ragged, has a hard time keeping his calm face on. When Kuprin is killed, he’s startled. When his own people are executed in front of him, he’s heartbroken. When Guardian nukes the US he snaps. When he declares his defiance from the machines at the end, you know – you just know – that it’s empty bravado. They’re right: Forbin is too fascinated with them to remain angry for long, and these kinds of emotional traumas are just wearing him down and making him an easier target. The machines have won not only the whole world, but the soul of their creator, or soon they will anyway.

Susan Clark doesn’t make too much of an impression. She’s pretty enough, but they deliberately play that down. She does come across as pretty smart, and her awkwardness with the ‘mistress’ situation is played very well, particularly when the idea is first breached and she’s a bit drop jawed by it. Apart from that, she plays her scenes in what I like to call “The Barbara Bain Mode,“ a lot of calm, quiet, measured talking while walking around reservedly. She’s not the kind of person to freak out, she’s not the kind of person who needs a rescue, even if she isn’t a forceful personality. There’s just enough of a romance angle here to flesh out her character a little, but not nearly enough to be annoying or tedious. There’s a neat little horrified flash from Susan Clark looking at Forbin at the end where she realizes that Forbin’s soul will soon be forfeit.

There’s some nudity in the movie, all filmed cleverly. For instance, Clark strips down in one scene, and is obscured artfully by a champagne glass which distorts her image just enough – and artistically enough – that it doesn’t feel gratuitous.

Gordon Pinsent really is a dead ringer for the Bobby Kennedy.

William Schallert plays the CIA chief. He’s typically pretty good, and his oddly grim sense of humor is a nice touch to the film. James Hong is in the movie, but does nothing apart from smoke cigarettes and look nervous. Marion “Happy Days” Ross has a bit part as one of the computer techs.

There’s a lot of interesting statements about politics in this flick. The idea that machines should control our weapons is clearly driven by fear and justified by an optimism about “The Human Millennium” which will unlock all our potential, “We can do all this, but first we must have peace.” When Colossus/Guardian (Now identifying itself as “World Control”) addresses the world at the end of the film, the speech is oddly similar to the one the president gave, announcing “The Human Millennium” has begun. It’s interesting because the government got *EXACLY* what they wanted, and they’re horrified by it!

Be careful what you wish for: Not only is there no more threat of war, there’s no more need for government at all. This is presented, interestingly for the time, as a bad thing. Human life is protected, arguably more secure under “World Control” than at any point in our history, and yet it’s also oddly irrelevant. Humanity kind of no longer matters on one level because we’re no longer in the driver’s seat.

Whether it was intentional or not, what we’re looking at here is basically a dismantling of the early sixties Kennedy idealism and futurism as the ideas come home to roost. It’s no surprise that the president is *clearly* supposed to be Bobby, since this film essentially is the conclusion of a process that started with JFK: the attempt to perfect the world. But is there any room for people in a perfect world? The film argues that there is, but only if we’re housebroken. But if we’re housebroken, are we still human? By the end of the film, “World Control” has effectively become a god, and a very wrathful one, a Zeus throwing lightning bolts at those who sow disharmony. We spent a lot of time working our way out from under that kind of setup, it seems a shame to go right back into it, only for real this time.

The Machine is the supreme arbiter of right and wrong, invasive in every aspect of people’s lives, and such areas as are left to man as his own purview – sex, alcohol, the occasional entertainment – are essentially trivial, more about being given the illusion of choice rather than an actual choice. Bread and Circuses to distract people from their slavery. Forever.

And as is very clear (To me at least), humanity *WILL* come to love the master. 

MOVIE REVIEW: “Day of the Dolphin” (1973)

What a strange, laconic film this is! Seriously: It starts out relaxed, doesn’t move very far, and takes its own sweet time getting there. Also, it picks an odd place to end, proving Welles’ old saw about the difference between tragedy and triumph being where you decide to stop telling the story.

In a nutshell – and believe you me, it doesn’t take a very big nut to hold this film – we’ve got George C. Scott as a marine biologist living on an island off the coast of Florida with his surprisingly-but-not-inappropriately young wife, a bunch of interns, and a couple dolphins. The star of the research facility is “Alpha” (“Fa” for short), a dolphin born in captivity and raised by humans without any contact with his own kind. As a result, he’s “Learned to speak people talk” as they say in Pokemon. Specifically, he can speak English, a bit, though it’s kinda’ hard to understand. He can understand English, too. A good corporation is funding the research in exchange for the tax dodge it provides, while the evil Paul Sorvino is posing as a reporter trying to gain access for some nefarious purpose or other.

As Fa has hit puberty, they give him a girlfriend, “Beta” (“Bea” for short). George and Mrs. George (Played by his real-life wife Trish Van Devere) are called away from the island by the company, and one of the interns gets a call from George saying the dolphins are to be loaded on to a yacht that’s gonna’ show up soon. When George and Trish get back to the island, they find Fa and Bea gone, along with one of the interns. Then the evil Paul Sorvino appears and explains – in a pretty good twist, actually – that he’s not evil, in fact the company and the intern are evil. They’ve kidnapped the dolphins for some nefarious purpose, and Paul Sorvino was actually trying to keep them from it. In the second good twist of the movie, we find that Sorvino *AND* the Corporate Goons are both working for the US government, albeit opposing factions.

The bad guys train Bea to place a bomb on the president’s yacht, which will kill him. Fa escapes, and George explains that bombs are designed to kill, so Fa warns Bea. The two of them plant the bomb on the bad guy’s yacht instead, which blows up and kills them in what results in one of the funnier uses of the “S-word” in early 70s SF. The movie doesn’t end, there, however. We get about another fifteen minutes or so where our heroes – George, Trish, Paul, and the interns – realize that the corporate goons aren’t going to let them live because they know too much. Sorvino basically bails on ‘em as a plane carrying gunmen approaches. George and Trish drive Fa and Ba away, then go hide in the woods, waiting to die.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Wow, that’s kind of a downer, isn’t it? This would be a great kids film were it not so glacially paced, didn’t have profanity, and didn’t end with everyone dying and the dolphins coming across somewhat like abandoned babies in the wilderness. It’s a weird film. It really is. Really, I could have summarized it in less space, and if we’re honest the stuff of note that actually happens in each act is haiku length, but it’s padded out to 90 minutes.

Thing is: despite that, it’s an engaging film. The sedate qualities give it an almost verite feel, or maybe a documentary feel. Not exactly, it’s not intended to be like that, but everything just takes so long that you kind of feel like you’re waiting along with these people for stuff to happen. It’s not an art film, it’s not really taking the long Russian road, but even by 1973 standards it’s pretty slow. It’s not surprising it was a bomb.

There’s also an interesting disconnect between the sweet, adorable, baby-talking dolphin (Bea never learns to speak) and the generally misanthropic feel of the movie as a whole. George C. Scott is playing a man who doesn’t like men, and prefers the company of fish. His wife takes an even dimmer view of corporate America. Paul Sorvino – who’s great in the movie, but seems a bit like a straight Nathan Lane this time out – is a government spook who’s perfectly content with the fact that he’s sent out to kill other spooks, and that they’re coming after him. The idea being that there’s a sort of perpetual undeclared civil war in the government. I actually like that idea. It’s got some potential legs, even if it’s crazy 1970s paranoid. The fact that the government tries to kill the president, and then tries to kill everyone who found out about it is, once again, just crazy ‘70s. At one point George and Trish discuss the fact that they’ve made Fa like us, and kind of doomed him to our miserable sort of existence in the process.

As Prometheus myths go, it’s sort of interesting. Generally it’s “Don’t take fire from the gods because they’ll kick your ass.” In this case, it’s more like “The gods give you fire because they like you, but it just ends up hurting and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Sorry.”

In fact I sort of admire the movie for giving us a perfectly acceptable happy ending, and then spending fifteen minutes tearing it apart. I found myself wondering if saving the president *was* happy as it cost the good guys their lives, and wasn’t any too good for the dolphins. I guess the climax of the film is happy in that Fa and Bea survive, and they really are innocents caught in this, but their being released out into the sea is pretty jagged and heartbreaking. Earlier in the film, George said Fa only talked because he loved him and his wife, but in the company of others of his kind, he’d quickly stop, he couldn’t teach others, and that it required a lot of effort for him to do it. It’s not hard to extrapolate from that to the idea that a dolphin raised entirely by people isn’t going to survive in the wild. Perhaps Bea will take care of him, but I think the kids are screwed, really. Yeah, a chance for survival is better than certain death, but still…

The movie is interestingly nebulous with regards to animal sapience. George says that all he’s really got is a dolphin approximating human speech while responding to some verbal cues. It could be training. Clearly it’s more than that, but it may not be *THAT* much more. It can be argued that Fa isn’t much more than a dog that can say “I love you.” I do think we’re supposed to believe he’s intelligent, but the part that interests me is that he’s clearly not nearly *AS* intelligent as humans. He’s an adolescent dolphin, so he’s probably not going to get much smarter than he is, but he seems to think and act on the level of a three or four year old kid. Factor in the obvious environmental differences and all, and he’s still skewing very young and/or not amazingly bright. Like 50 IQ, or thereabouts? A genius for anything other than a human, but by our standards not much.

Acting is, on the whole, pretty good. Well, heck, it’s got George C. Scott, and apart from that sitcom where he was the president, I’ve never really seen him give a phoned in performance. He’s not always great, but he’s always fully engaged, you know? I’ve never really seen him play a smart-guy-scientist-type before. Makes me want to watch some more of his roles.

To my surprise, we actually still had a presidential yacht in 1973. It was the “USS Sequoyah” and it was sold in 1977 by Jimmy Carter. Man, we could have used some exploding dolphins in those days, huh? Anyway: the pictures I found make it apparent that the *Real* presidential yacht was a piece of crap compared to the one in the film.

Edward Herrmann is in this movie, basically being very young and very skinny. He’s best known from “Gilmore Girls” and “The Lost Boys.”

The motorboat that Scott et all use to get to and from the mainland is called the “Erewhon.” That’s a 19th century Utopian satirical novel that is so obscure I occasionally think I must have hallucinated it. Thus the name really popped out at me. I really should review that book here some time…

This movie was written by Buck Henry. Yeah, *THAT* Buck Henry. Mike Nichols, the director, is most famous for “The Graduate.” He’s also a stand-up comic. Furthermore, this movie was based on a French novel which was, allegedly, a comedic parody of the cold war. All of which strikes me as odd since the film is so doggedly un-funny (Apart from one really great bit of scatology referenced above.) Just weird.

On a personal note, I’ve occasionally mentioned how seeing things I used to like, but haven’t seen in 30 or 40 years puts me in the same room with an earlier version of myself, right? Well I used to love this film as a kid – cute talking dolphins, what’s not to love? – and it was on TV constantly. I assumed I’d be hanging out with young me in no time, but, no. Apart from “It’s hard for them to do it” and “Fa love pa” and the scene where Fa heads off Bea, I honestly didn’t remember a lick of it. Weirdest thing. Also, the parts I did remember are far, far, far, far longer in my memory than in the actual film. This makes me think I must have been crazy young, with a little kid’s kinda’ goofy time sense.

Bottom line: This is an interesting film, but only just barely. It’s not really worth putting any effort into finding, but if you stumble across at 3AM when you’re riddled with insomnia, you could do worse than watch it.

MOVIE REVIEW: “The Good, The Bad, and the Weird” (2008)

“The Good, The Bad, and the Weird,” is just about the most amazing Korean film I’ve ever seen. It’s a sprawling, insane love-letter to spaghetti westerns in general, and “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly,” in particular, as you’d expect from the title. It’s also strongly influenced by Raiders of the Lost Ark, and, believe it or not, The Road Warrior. (Which I suppose brings things full circle, since The Road Warrior is basically a postapocalyptic spaghetti western by design).

The plot only superficially overlaps with its more-or-less namesake. Basically, “Hey, there’s a treasure, lets go get it,” and three characters who can’t be trusted and don’t like each other trying to beat the others to it. It culminates in a three-way Mexican standoff. (Manchurian standoff? Despite being Korean, this movie takes place in Manchuria in 1939, very shortly before World War II breaks out.) That’s a pretty broad comparison, though, and most of what actually happens in the film has nothing to do with the Eastwood flick. For instance, at no point in this movie do we diverge from the plot for a half hour to help the Confederate army blow a bridge to slow the Union advance.

“The Good,” is a Korean bounty hunter who inexplicably dresses like a spaghetti western cowboy. Got the hat, got the duster, the awesome rifle, the quick-draw tie-down holster with six guns that never run out of bullets. He’s awesome. He’s also not in very much of the movie, as he’s, well, “The Good,” and Good isn’t nearly as much fun as evil or weird. If you haven’t seen TGTB&TU, Eastwood’s “Good” is only in relation to the other two. He’s not a nice guy. This film’s “Good” is, though, so he tends to be absent a lot. He’s an insurmountable badass, however, and has just about the most amazing gunfight ever a third of the way into the film.

“The Bad” is played by Lee Byung-hun, whom I’ve never heard of, but he just oozes “Movie Star.” Remember the first time you saw Chow Yun-Fat in “The Killer,” when he walks in with the suit and the sunglasses and the guns, and just *owns* the screen? I remember my wife saying “If he could speak English, he’d own Hollywood.” Well, Lee Byung-hun doesn’t quite have THAT level of grab-you-by-the-throat-and-force-you-to-pay-attention impact, but he’s darn close. He’s just flat-out evil here, and kind of inexplicably ’80s looking, with his New Wave haircut and his earring.

“The Weird” is oddly the main character. I know Eli Wallach got way more screen time in TGTG&etc than people remember, but his more-or-less equivalent here is the star: A not-very-bright crook with more ego than skills, occasional bouts of panic, cowardice, and an unexpected backstory that makes you wonder if his personality was real or just an act all along.

“The bounty on you is 300 Yon.”
“I’m only worth as much as a piano?”
“A used piano, at that.”

The movie deliberately bends time, with scenes that could come from any cowboy film, WW2 film, and chop-sockey flick playing side by side. It’s deliberately anachronistic, with the 80s rock star bad guy, cowboy good guy, and 1930s hobo comic lead, and this is deliberate, and a good choice.

Direction is very solid, though the steadycam gets a little too jittery in a couple scenes. Shot composition is nice. The action sequences are fantastic. There’s a fifteen-minute long chase sequence involving a motorcycle, a jeep, mongol horsemen, a gang of bandits, a cowboy, and the Imperial Japanese Army that just keeps getting bigger and bigger and more super-crazy-no-way gonzo over-the-top. It’s the kind of sequence that would make George Miller say, “I’ve wasted my life,” and start crying.

The score is gorgeous, too. It blends modern music, traditional East Asian stuff, and some very solid Ennio Morricone pastiches. It’s freakin’ awesome. I *WILL* find a copy of this for my collection.

My one caveat is that this is a pretty brutal film. Lots of blood, lots of splatter, some particularly vicious scenes with knives, two comedic-yet-really-gross skewerings. Not for the squeamish.

Just the same you guys, oh my gosh, this movie…! Wow.

SPOILER-FILLED MOVIE REVIEW: “Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (2015)

There’s a line in “Airplane II: The Sequel,” where Julie Haggerty says, “I have the stragest feeling that we’ve done this exact same thing before.” I had that feeling a lot during this film. While this move was touted as a kind of spiritual rebirth of the Star Wars saga, in fact it war more or a remake of the original 1977 film. Seeing as the last time we saw Luke, Han, and Lea 32 years ago was also a sort of half-hearted semi-remake of the 1977 film, I have to say I was pretty disappointed.

Lets run the checklist, shall we? Things “Episode 4” has in common with “Episode 7:”

– Opening firefight in which stormtroomers make quick work of the good guys: Check.

– Black suited uber-bad-guy introduced marching through stormtroopers: Check

– Cute robot with information vital to the good guys sent wandering off through the desert to find help: Check

– Desert planet: Check

– 20-ish protagonist living a meneial existence in the desert without parents, who years for something more: Check

– Millenium Falcon: Check

– Millenium Falcon caled a piece of junk: Check

– Millenium Falcon taking off in a hurry under fire from the desert planet: Check

– Millenium Falcon using it’s turrets to take out TIE fighters: Check

– Old Guy long past his hero days functions as mentor/father figure to protagonist: Check

– Old Guy is killed by black-suited bad guy: Check

– A Cantina scene: Check

– A Cantina band playing out-of-place music (In this case, reggae): Check.

– Another protagonist who decides to bow out of the action, but then gets shamed back in to it: Check

– ANOTHER GODDAMNED DEATH STAR: Check. Dammit.

– A planet gets destroyed by the death star: Check.

– An Imperial general who’s somewhat at odds with the Black Suited Bad Guy: Check.

– A rag-tag rebellion: Check.

– A fighter battle to take out the death star, including fighting in a trench: Check.

– X-Wings, X-Wings, X-Wings: Check.

– Protagonist who begins to learn the ways of the force over the course of the movie: Check

– Light Saber duels: Check.

– Short goofy-looking alien with personal boundary issues espouces wisdom: Check.

– “This light saber belonged to your father:” Check.

– Awesome B-list 1960s actor in a small role: Check.

– Interrogations of the good guys by the bad: Check.

– Trash chute and/or compactor: Check (Though off-screen)

– Bad guys defeated: Check.

– Rebel base on a jungle-ish world: Check.

– “Death star is 15 minutes from firing:” Check.

– “I’ve got a bad feeling about this:” Check.

– Damn C3P0 being annoying: Check.

– Dishonest fat alien thing evidently runs desert planet or at least the chunk of it we see: Check.

– Running around inside, trying to escape from and/or sabotage an Imperial base: Check.

Honestly the list goes on and on and on and on. I don’t need to stop there, but I’m sure you get my point: This film was like a remixed version of Episode IV. There are also nods to the other two films, and one or two passive-aggressive stabs at the prequel trilogy.

Disappointing.

Now, don’t get me wrong: not all of those things are bad. Despite finding the film to be a bit of a let down, there was some cool stuff in it, and I am glad I saw it, and I’m super-glad I saw it on the big screen. There is a lot to like here, burried underneath the fan service.

Every single shot involving the Millenium Falcon provides a lifetime of badassery. It really is the sexiest, coolest hunk-o-junk in film, and it really gets put through its paces here. I also like that it’s still showing signs of repairs made resulting from damage in Return of the Jedi.

I liked the bad guy. The trailers deliberately caused a subtle fake-out among the fans. We all thought “Oh, it must be Luke! Luke’s gone bad!” This is still plausible until about halfway through the movie. Even the dialog is pretty straight forward, it comes across as fairly ambiguous until the big reveal.

His backstory (What we discover of it) is interesting and tragic, and his onetime status as the great hope of the New Republic in to essentially a Vader-wannabe is interesting, and mercifully unseen. As to the wannabe-stuff, that’s not me being insulting: The openly state that he’s got serious inferiority issues regarding Vader’s legacy.

He’s also rather polite and engaging and talks a lot. Whereas Vader was imposing and silent and overpowering, this guy is more thoughtful, more introspective, and a fair deal chattier. He also lacks Vader’s self control. The most impressive part of him, though, is that while Vader was steadfastly evil, and grows more conflicted over the course of the orige-trige (Yes, I’m calling it that from now on. Yes, I stole it from Cracked.com. Deal with it), our new bad guy starts out conflicted, but becomes more resolutely evil as the film progresses.

I like that Han and Lea didn’t have a happily-ever-after life. They’re old, they have a deep personal tragedy in their lives, split up, and kept going. Solo “Went back to the only thing he was ever any good at,” and Lea finally has a job. (Seriously: Why was she not running the rebellion in Return of the Jedi? She’s pretty much added baggage in that film, contributing nothing of any real note). While I’d rather have had Luke go evil (Which was something the Orige-Trige hinted at), him just having the heart beat out of him, abandoning everything, and leaving was a nice way to go. The new bad guy had a much more personal connection to The Big Three and his defection devestated all of them.

When the Black Suited Bad Guy is called by his real name – “Ben” – it’s a surprisingly “Oooh!” moment on several levels.

The Supreme Leader is an interesting new big bad. More questions than answers, but he’s already more interesting than the Emperor ever was. Less imposing, more interesting. Much the same as the new Black Suited Bad Guy, actually.

The new male lead, “Finn,” is actually a pretty fantastic character, too: he’s got a tragic backstory, being taken from his family and raised as a killing machine. He’s a coward, however, and deserts. He’s pretty much a coward through the first half of the film, just playing along to get away, but he’s continually forced – against his will – to man up. Finally, in the end, he is actually a hero…and immediately gets curbstomped. He’s charismatic, likeable, fairly smart, quick to adapt, a little desparate, and very unsure of himself. I liked the hell out of him. Also, the actor – British – does a great American accent.

“Ray,” the new female protagonist fills the “Plucky Girl” role nicely. Her backstory is considerably more ambiguous, but I presume she’s Luke’s long-lost daughter, given how quickly she develops her powers, and “Ben’s” quick and surprising concern when he learns there’s this mysterious girl running around. If so, a face-off between her and her cousin in the subsequent movies is a good storytelling choice. Her trippy flashback/flash forward scene when she first touches the lightsaber are very cool.

The battle where she’s captured is wonderfully higgaldy-piggaldy, well shot, and probably the best battle sequence in the entire franchise.

There were endless scenes of spacecraft flying low and fast over the water, and I ain’t complaining. All that was cool.

I liked the big stormtrooper “Seig Heil” scene.

The last scene, while perhaps as not as poignient as it they thought it was, was still pretty good.

Blowing up Coruscant? Pretty damn cool. “Take that, prequels!”

And of course, best of all: This is the first Star Wars film to have the correct number at the beginning.

On the other hand, there’s a good dal of stuff I didn’t like, or which didn’t make any sense.

First and foremost: I don’t like this “First Order” stuff. I get that there were still factions loyal to the Empire, and I get that some of them would obviously attempt to sieze power, but think about it: it’s been 32 years since the emperor died. That’s more time than the Empire itself even existed. It’s more likely the remaining forces would have simply gone pirate, or struck a deal by this point. What bugs me, though, is that of the various foes one could have chosen, this is about the least interesting one. In essence we’ve got the same exact conflict as in the Orige Trige: Imperials versus Rebels. Yawn.

Why did they do this? Because what Lucas never seems to have understood is that what fans want more than anything else is X-wings versus TIE fighters. And this is the excuse: Yawn.

And what’s the deal with the resistance? The Resistance is fighting the First Order, and they’re supported by The Republic, but evidently they’re not part of the Republic Military? What’s that all about? And why are they so ramshackle? Why wouldn’t the Republic’s own armed forces (Perhaps led by General Organia) be leading the conflict? That made no sense.

Normally I don’t say “How I’d have done it” in my reviews, but it struck me that a much cleaner, less convoluted narrative way to do it would be to have Lea in charge of the groups that root out loyalists like the First Order, and fight/contain/destroy them. She leads a group to attack the new death star (Excuse me: Starkiller) and then Coruscant gets destroyd and – “Oh my God, the government’s gone, the New Republic is destroyed, and we’re the only ones left!” – which would ratchet the tension up nicely. It goes from being just another mission to, “Oh crap!” very quickly.

The destruction of Coruscant probably should have gotten more chatter than it did. We don’t even get anyone freaking out. “Oh my God, the government and economy of the galaxy have just collapsed” or “Coruscant has been the capital of the galaxy since before humans even existed!” That kind of thing. Think about how freaked out we were when 9/11 happened. Now think how freaked out we’d be if it had been DC getting nuked instead. We should get some feel of that here.

Despite being the co-lead of the film and heir apparent to Luke, Ray doesn’t make much of an impression. She’s a serviceable lead, but she’s more defined by what she does than who she is. Likewise, “Bo,” the hotshot fighter pilot doesn’t make much of an impression. As these guys are apparently the central trio for this trilogy, I found that a little disappointing. Or maybe it’s just because they can’t keep up with Han and the much-better Finn hogging the spotlight.

How is it that “First Order” technology seems to have progressed – at least some – in the intervening generation, but the good guys are still using crap from the Rebellion? I mean, that stuff was supposed to be old already, back then. I know, I know, I know: Because we want to see X-wings versus TIE fighters, but a one-line explanation would have been nice.

Why wasn’t Lando in this film? We get every surviving character from the first film, plus Admiral Ackbar and Lando’s copilot from Jedi, so why not him? My prediction is that he’ll turn up in the second film because he turned up in the second film of the Orige-Trige as well. And is Wedge here? Probably he’s in one of the Rebel Base scenes, and I just didn’t notice him.

It was a sin to put Max Von Sydow in this movie, and then kill him off after three minutes of screen time. Seriously: What’s that all about?

Death Star 3 – “Starkiller” – seems to have a serious design flaw in that it eats a star to shoot. Since it’s a planet and not a space ship or space station, it can’t move to a new star. So they spent twenty years building a weapon that only has one or two shots, and then is useless?

Soooooo…Luke is Yoda now? That seems to be what they were setting it up as for the next film.

I was disappointed by the music as well. The original Star Wars music is honestly one of the high points of post-WW2 American cinema. It is just a fracking awesome score. Three awesome scores, really, all in the leitmotiff style, with lots of character and action themes, all overlapping and interplaying off of each other nicely. The Prequels weren’t as good. There was a deliberate choice to make the music less “bright” than in the orige-trige. As they’re all about the corruption of Anikin and the fall of civilization, that makes sense, and probably would have workd better if the movies hadn’t been seven-and-a-half hours of suckitude. However at least they had the “Duel of the Fates” theme, and that was pretty awesome.

In this film, it’s just not terribly inspired. We get the main theme, of course, and a slightly different arrangement of it over the closing credits, but apart from a few bars of the Imperial Death March, we don’t get any of the old stuff. No Lea’s theme, no Lea-and-Han theme, no Luke’s theme, not even some kind of ‘Duel of the Fates’ variation (Which would have been appropriate in a couple scenes). Instead the new film features…nothing. There’s no noteworthy personal themes, no cool imposing First Order theme to rival the “Dah-dah-dah” of the Empire. While it is still in the leitmotiff style, we have a bunch of non-entity musical pieces bouncing off of each other, and it doesn’t really do anything. We barely notice it.

Look, I know the current theory is that movie music isn’t supposed to draw attention to itself, but, pardon my French: Fuck that noise. This isn’t a cinematic adaptation of Barteleby The Scrivener here. This isn’t “Marie Curie Dies Of Cancer In The Name Of Science.” This isn’t freakin’ “Paris, Texas” where you can get away with Ry Cooder just noodling away on his guitar without accompanyment for two hours. This is Star Wars, dammit! The entire thing exists to be over-the-top and bombastic and awe-inspiring! This isn’t a tortured psychodrama, this is Flash Gordon! This is Buck Rogers! I’ll say it again: This is Star Wars! Go big, Mr. Williams, or just don’t bother coming out of retirement to do the next one.

That probably sounds disrespectful. It’s not really intended that way. He’s victim to the strictures of the times, and he’s also like 106 years old, so, you know, he might just have run out of music before he ran out of life, but this has always been one of the things I’ve looked forward to, and this is the first time he’s really disappointed me.

Finally we come to my biggest beef: This is not a very clean narrative. In storytelling terms it’s a bit of a jumble. Let me explain that:

In Star Wars, we start in the middle of the action, then spent a half hour following the droids around before we meet hero, we don’t get off the planet until the one hour mark, the third half hour is all about escaping from the death star, and the final half hour is the battle to destroy it. Very clean, very straightforward.

In Empire, we start off in the middle of the action, and Luke gets separated. He meets Yoda and trains, while Han and company do a very bad job of fleeing. They meet up at the end, and the good guys lose. It’s a more ambitious narrative, but it’s still a very clean one: together at the start, separate, contrasting adventures in the middle, meet up at the end. We meet a couple new friends along the way, expanding the cast, Han becomes a hero in his own right, and (Most impressively) structurally it’s basically a movie in reverse. Best of the bunch.

Then you get Jedi: it’s kind of a mess. We get 30 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, followed by an unrelated, uninspired 90-minute remake of the first film where the movie ping-pongs between trivial, time-wasting shenanegins on Endor, and Luke’s audience with the Emperor. (The latter being the only part of the film that really works.) We have a big naval battle at the end which is pretty cool. The we’ve got the clumsily-shoehorned “Let’s kill Yoda for no damn reason” and “Luke and Lea are siblings, no, seriously, no foolin’!” thing, all because Lucas didn’t have another single damn idea in his head, and was exhausted, and just wanted done with the whole series.

The prequels were just a huge jumble. I won’t even attempt to boil any of them down. I’ll just say that there’s lot of running around back and forth for no real good reason, and none of it makes any sense.

This movie, sadly, follows the tradition of having a lot of running around to no great purpose. Desert planet to lush planet to Rebel Base Planet (Which looks mostly the same as Lush planet) to Death Star Planet, to Luke’s Planet Scotland, with some other crap on the side. We don’t need a travelog. We need a more focused story. Again: I seldom suggest changes, but why is there even a rebel base planet? Why isn’t Lea based out of Coruscant? That certainly would have more impact when it’s destroyed later on.

It’s also a little unclear who the hero is. The Orige-Trige is Luke’s story. All the other characters support him. I’m not really sure who the main character of the prequels is (Which is one of its many, many failings). In this one, I’m not sure. Is it Ray? Is it Fin? Is it Han?

I was ten when I saw Star Wars with my dad for the first time. Both of us were blown away. We went to Steak and Shake for lunch afterwards and talked endlessly about the film, and that conversation was the first time I ever heard the word “Sequel.” It was a great memory.

So now I’m 48 and I saw this one with my kid. We went to Steak and Shake for lunch afterwards, and, well, we really didn’t have much to talk about.

The End

MOVIE REVIEW: “Enemy Mine” (1985)

I saw this movie with my friend Scott Mead at a $1.50 triple feature about a year after it came out. (Really!) I’ve probably picked it up once or twice on cable since then, but not in more than 25 years. I thought it was really bland and boring, though it had one or two scenes that did jump out at me. On a lark, I decided to give it a shot, and lo and behold, I actualy kind of like it now.

PLAY-BY-PLAY

In the 2080s humanity is at war with an alien species called the ‘Drac.’ Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) is a hotshot fighter pilot who gets shot down on an uninhabited, hostile world. Quickly he meets up with Jeriba, a hotshot Drac fighter pilot who’s also shot down. Initially at each other’s throats, they quickly realize that their only chance to survive is to work together, and over the course of a year or two on the planet the two become friends (Though neither really wants to admit it). Davidge learns to speak Drac, “Jerry,” learns to speak English. Their adventures are not particularly adventurous.

Eventually Davidge discovers human scavengers are mining a location a few days walk away, and are using Drac as slave labor. Though he could likely sign on with them and escape, Davidge chooses to protect his friend. He heads back to their camp and tells him he found nothing. Jerry, meanwhile, has become spontaneously pregnant (later. We’ll talk about it later. Wait for the observations!). Something goes wrong, and Jerry dies in childbirth, leaving Davidge to raise the baby.

Drac grow fast, so Zamis – the child – goes from baby to something about the level of an eight year old in about a year or so. Learning that there are scavengers on the planet, and wanting to see others of his own kind, Zamis heads off, and is promptly captured and enslaved. Davidge tries to rescue him, is shot and left for dead.

Davidge is discovered and rescued by his own ship. As soon as he’s patched up, he steals a fighter, flies back to the planet, rescues Zamis, and then we flash forward several years to when Davidge fulfils a promise to Jerry by helping the kid be Bar Mitzvahed.

The End

OBSERVATIONS

Despite its lordly $30 budget – which was huge by the standards of the day (Wrath of Khan cost $10 million, Empire Strikes Back cost $20 million) – this is a cheap looking movie. The sets are expansive, but bland and flimsy. The costumes are meh. The special effects would be pretty dowdy in a movie made in 1970. The Maurice Jarre soundtrack is…a soundtrack. With the exception of the football scene, it’s pretty uninspired. Most of this, I think, is due to it being a German production with an American cast. It’s a comparatively small country, and there just wasn’t much of a talent pool to make this glitzy and slick. It’s not that they’re incapable, it’s just that there’s probably more movie industry folks living and working in the city of Miami than there are in all Germany. That shows here.

The story is kind of timeless, and had this film been made in 1985 or 1965, it wouldn’t really have been any different, apart from the alien makeup not being as good. It’s a fairly low-key story. There’s only one dogfight, which is incompetently filmed (Seriously: They did it better on Battlestar Galactica seven years earlier for an insignificant fraction of the budget!), and that’s at the beginning. The rest of the film is essentially a character drama, and then there’s a mediocre fight sequence/set piece at the end. Basically, it’s not an actioner. It’s actually kind of a sweet little film, and that’s just not what audiences then – or now – are really looking for.

Still, you know what? It’s actually a pretty good movie. No, not ‘good.’ It’s ‘Nice.’

Quaid is a mediocre actor most of the time, and he’s mediocre here up until he gets shot down. From then on he gives a surprisingly solid performance as a basically decent guy who hates the alien he’s working with until his basic decency finally erodes his anger and racial prejudice. This is not an allegory for racism, by the way: his character has every reason to hate the Drac and the Drac have very valid reasons to hate humans. The fact that Davidge is, perhaps, not exceptionally smart is a nice touch, too, and prettyboy Quaid commits to the role, progressively getting more raggedy and bearded and longhaired and hermit-like as the story goes on. I also find it strangely engaging when he occasionally lapses in to his native Texan accent now and again.

His scenes of continued annoyance that Jerry is learning English faster than he’s learning Drac are pretty funny, as is his low-key condescension (“Hey, how about we open up a restaurant? I could ruin the food and you could scare the customers”). His fear of Jerry getting killed by the Scavengers is reserved, but obvious. His panic about Jerry possibly dying is appropriately fearful (“I’ll be alone here!”) The sequence where Jerry dies is genuinely moving. The scenes of him playing with the young Zamis are great – particularly the football scene – and the one where he has to explain to the kid why he looks nothing like him is similarly good. The bit where he’s learning to read the Drac bible (it’s the only book on the planet, and he’s bored) raised the hair on the back of my neck.

He reads a passage out loud, which sounds pretty much like something Jesus would say.

“I’ve heard this before, in the human scripture.”
“Of course. Truth is truth.”

Louis Gossett, Jr, really is a pretty great actor even if he has no clue how to choose a commercial film. Burried in about 20 pounds of latex, he is completely awesome as Jerry. He gets a lot of emotion out of a not-very-expressive face, and his twitch, reptilian manerisms are well done. Though we grow to accept him over the course of the film, he’s suitably creepy in the early scenes. He’s more laid back, and definitely smarter than Davidge. It’s unclear why he doesn’t kill the human when he has the chance early on, but I suspect it’s because he wants to use him as a slave. (Davidge is forced to do all the grunt work in the first act of the movie) His weird alien laughter is funny, as is him learning English profanities-first. His spasmodic not-at-all-human crying (No tears, convulsng head, weird body language) when he’s abandoned is not only believably alien, it’s also genuinely moving.

To quote Dr. Kyle, “As aliens go, this one is pretty alien.” The Drac are hermaphrodites. They are reptiles. They reproduce by parthenogenesis, and have no control over when it happens. They’ve got a seemingly-vestigial tail. They’ve got no nose, and twitchy little organs of some kind by the mouth. They tend to not move at all until something happens and then their reactions are too fast. Their language is guttural and involves lots of croaking and clicks. They only have three fingers, and it looks like six teeth. No nose. Tympanums for ears. They’re very well realized for a movie of this era.

One thing I really liked is the steadfast devotion to the nonsense alien language. The two characters can not understand each other at all at the start of the film. Now, in most movies we’d find a translator machine, or the alien would just coincidentally speak English for some reason. In this movie, however, we’re in the second act before they can really converse. It sounds tedious, and it might actually be (in 1986 I certainly thought it was) but this time out I liked it.

There is no mention in the film of what happened with the Drac war. Is it over? Is it going on? How did it end? Who won? Oddly, though the movie is (infrequently) narrated by Quaid, they abruptly switch to another narrator for the last 90 seconds.

NOTES

This movie had a troubled production. About 45 minutes was filmed before the original director was fired, and they started over again with Wolfgang Petersen. None of that footage is in the film. In fact no one – not even Dennis Quaid – has ever seen it. You won’t see it here, either: The extras on this disc are limited to three – count ’em three – behind the scenes stills.

Once the film was done, the studio realized they had a bomb on their hands, and chopped about 22 minutes in order to cut their losses. (Shorter films = more showings per day = more money) This, too, has never been seen by anyone since Petersen turned in his director’s cut. Again, I’d love to see it; again I never will.

In the original novella by Barry Longyear (Which I’ve never read) I’m told that while Davidge was on the planet the war ended. He went back to earth and got a job translating old westerns into Drac. Then something happens with Zamis, and he’s off to rescue the kid. Now, obviously this movie never had anything like that in it, however something on that order could fit nicely in between the time Davvidge is rescued, and the time he goes AWOL.

In the film he’s rescued by his ship and leaves his ship two or three scenes later. I’m assuming that most of the stuff that got cut was from the ship, as his exit seems very abrupt. Add to this that the ship sets are pretty huge and get about five minutes of screen time. Clearly something substantial was chopped here, and explained away with a very forced voiceover. I think there was some denouement chopped from the point between when Zamis is rescued, and the Alien Bar Mitzvah scene, given that the time is glossed over by narration, and it’s a different narrator than they used in the rest of the film. Clearly something forced in post, when Quaid was no longer readily at hand.

This is not a great film, but it’s an unexpected success just the same. If you get a chance to watch it, do.

MOVIE REVIEW: “Space Station 76” (2014)

It’s a good thing I like set design, or I wouldn’t have been able to stay awake. Ok, that’s not entirely fair. I’m being glib. The movie wasn’t that dull, but it’s the kind of film that, were I to give a synopsis, would feel like less happens than actually does.

The basic concept grabbed me: It’s an obvious parody of those early ’70s mid-budget SF films like Silent Running and whatnot, as well as TV series from the same period. Well, “Parody” is what the trailer led me to believe. In actual fact, it’s more like an homage. Parody is supposed to be funny. This film, while it is a comedy, is on a simmer so low that the differences between it and ‘drama’ are largely notional. There are a few noteworthy funny scenes, such as where Misty confesses her love for her Robot Psychiatrist. He protests. She turns him off, then cuddles him and continues to talk to him. It makes absolutely no difference in their sessions.

The plot is where it lost me, though. It’s basically one of those suburban malaise flicks, also from the early ’70s, where everyone is disaffected and screwing each other’s wives and neglecting their kids. This, for no reason whatsoever, is set in space. Again, it’s more homage than parody, and apart from gay Captain Glenn’s repeated suicide attempts, it’s mostly laugh-free.

But ok: two unrelated genres from the same general time period mashed up. I’m cool with that. It’s got potential. It sort of doesn’t work, but points for trying.

I’ll try to make this as non-dull as possible: The Space Station is essentially a truck stop. People pull in to refuel and get a shower. Liv Tyler arrives as the new executive officer. The position was vacated when gay Captain Glenn and the previous exec had a bad breakup. Glenn is closeted, and evidently somewhat in denial as well. Oh, and he’s a drunk. And suicidal, probably from a combination of both the breakup and the denial. Liv quickly befriends Sunshine (Age 7) the only child on the station, and immediately runs afoul of her shitty mom, Misty. Misty is completely self-absorbed and manipulative. Her husband, Neil from White Collar, is a blue collar schlub who works in maintenance all day, and is the only one who ever seems to have something to do. Oh, and he’s got a robot hand wich I swear is a Nintendo NES glove. Live and Neil develop a chaste crush on each other, while Misty and Steve (The neighbor) have sex a lot. She won’t let Neil touch her, though. Steve’s wife, Donna, is Misty’s best friend, and you see where all this is going, right?

It culminates at the Christmas party, where an asteroid narrowly misses the station, but destroys a shuttle packed full of Steve and Donna’s stuff. (They were going to move in the morning) Nothing is really resolved, though it’s implied that Liv and Neil are going to get together.

Damn. It really DID seem like even less than happens onscreen, and let me tell ya, brother: nothing much happens onscreen.

Liv is her pretty, reseved self. Matt Bomer is, as always, effortlessly charming, and he played a blue collar joe better than I would have expected (I’m used to him playing spies and art thieves and what have you). Marissa Coughlin plays Misty as, basically, Katherine Heigl. I say this because I thought she was Katherine Heigl until the closing credits, and that’s sort of the go-to choice on unlikeability these days, isn’t it? Kier Dullea literally phones in his cameo. But wait, he’s credited, so it’s not really a cameo, is it? Just there to pad out the names on the marquis.

Patrick Wilson is pretty great as gay Captain Glenn, and he seems to be the only one who got the memo about this being a comedy. He jumps between pointless anger, questionable competence, worldweary depression, and extreme frustration when his suicide attempts fail.

I’ll recount them because they’re the best part of the movie, and who am I kidding? No one’s actually reading my review, much less gonna watch this flick.

1) He attempts to electrocute himself in a bathtub. The station computer immediately spots the power surge and reroutes the energy elsewhere so he doesn’t even get a twitch.

2) He attempts to asphyxiate himself, but the station computer immediately spots the problem and vents all the bad air out of the room.

3) Wow. I’ve already forgotten the third one. It was pretty funny, though. Well, I guess not that funny if I’ve blanked on it in less than an hour, but you get my point.

The best part of this movie, as I said above, is the set design. Space Station 76 is Moonbase Alpha. Same backlit walls, same color scheme, same colored light scheme, same window designs, personal quarters are the same, with the same mod furniture and bric-a-brac. The few space ships we see in the film are essentially hommages of ships from other shows. The shuttle that gets destroyed at the end is essentially the Alien’s modular shuttle from “V.” The ship that Liv arrives on is essentiall the Starfire from “Jason of Star Command.” There’s some geodesic dome garden scenes that are obviously an homage to the Valley Forge.

There’s some nudity and two scenes of fake masturbation, and flagrant use of Tod Rungren on the soundtrack. Any or all of those may offend some viewers. Also it annoyed the crap out of me that the script didn’t seem to understand the difference between a space station and a space ship.

Bottom line: it’s just pointless and dull, but not actually bad. Just ‘why bother?’ I can’t recommend it lowly enough.

MOVIE REVIEW: “Orson Welles’ Don Quixote” (1992)

Orson Welles’ Don Quixote

This is a damn-near unwatchable movie. On my first viewing, I immediately fell asleep. On my second attempt, I immediately fell asleep. I awoke, ate a taco, and tried again, assuming I was all slept out by that point.  I made it through that time, but I admit I had to fast-forward through vast tracts of this thing.  I had kind of the same problem with “It’s All True,” and that was only 30 minutes long, but this, this, hoo boy,  this is a two-hour turd.
 It’s hard for me to say that, since I’m a huge fan of Orson Welles, but at the same time this is really not an Orson Welles film.
I should explain. the explanation is actually more interesting than the film itself:
Back in 1955 CBS or ABC or whomever approached Welles about doing a half-hour TV show. He jumped at the chance. He pitched an evidently off-the-cuff idea about Don Quixote somehow traveling through time and ending up in modern-day Mexico. The network loved the idea, and shot a few scenes on location, but then, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart. The network abandoned it, and that was that.
Welles re-tooled the idea, and decided to do a retelling of Don Quixote set in modern-day (late 1950s) Spain. There was no time travel involved. Quixote was simply a modern-day Spaniard who went nuts reading stories about the knights of old, decides he is a knight, enlists the aid of a local moron, and goes around having comedic adventures generally culminating with him getting the shit kicked out of him. But then, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart.
The concept may sound silly, but it’s actually very clever. See, the hook about the novel, which we tend to miss nowadays as the novel is so damn old, is that knights and chivalry and all that stuff had already gone extinct by Quixote’s own time. The old man was crazy. Welles wanted to emphasize this by basically telling the identical story in present day. Pretty clever, right? If Orson wiped his nose on his sleeve, the stain would be more creative than anything I could ever come up with in my whole life. The problem was, of course, that he wasn’t a closer, and, as I said, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart.
In Spain he filmed most of the movie around 1957. He does not appear to have had a finished script, and made up a lot of stuff on the fly. He did not feel the need to do a directly literal representation of the story because we all know the story, and much of it is cliche. For instance, his film lacked a “Tilting at Windmills” sequence. Its analog had the Don going to a movie, and being confused by the epic battle onscreen. Confused, he jumps up on the stage and starts fighting back, hacking the screen to bits, terrifying the audience, who go stampeding out, while the kids in the audience cheer.
The actor playing Quixote was clearly not healthy, so he asked Orson if he could please film all his scenes in a block. Obligingly Orson did so. The script thing didn’t matter too much as Orson generally worked without sound in the second half of his career, dubbing most of the dialog after the fact. This allowed him to change his semi-nonexistent script whenever the whim struck him.  (For an example of how well this works, check out “The Trial” starring Anthony Perkins sometime)  Then, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart.
The actor playing Quixote died.
Rather than recast or reshoot, it appears to have become a puzzle for Welles. How to complete the film? He had all of Quixote’s scenes, or near enough as to make no difference, so he appears to have expanded Sancho’s role, rewriting around stuff he had in the can. It’s like Ed Wood writing “Plan 9 from Outer Space” around the two or three minutes of Bella Lugosi he had in the can, only on a massive (And presumably competent) scale.  It stopped being a normal film, per se, and became what Orson called “something like a novel, done for my own amusement, and to be taken out and worked on in my own good time. And when it is done, I will call it ‘When are you going to finish Don Quixote?'”  He shot more scenes in Spain, a few some years later in Italy, possibly some more in the ’70s, and he continued to tinker with the thing up until he died in 1985 when, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart.
What was the plot? Well, basically an elderly lunatic and his pet village idiot get the shit kicked out of them repeatedly for acting anachronously. What was the point? Dunno, but clearly there was one. In one iteration, the story ended with Sancho and the Don going to the moon. “Then we actually went to the moon, and that ruined things for me.” At another point it ended with them blowing up in an atomic explosion.  What was his vision in 1975 or 1981? No clue, but probably quite a bit diferent.
If I had to guess – which of course I do – I’m going to assume the point of it all was a study of people’s willingness to go along with violent insanity, which was kind of a major theme in the middle half of the 20th century for very obvious reasons. Not a message – Welles hated making ‘statements’ in films – but more an exploration of how far someone will go to ignore the madness of another.
You know, or not. It’s not like he told me.
In fact, it’s not like he told anyone. He made offhand comments like the ones I quoted above, but they changed quite a bit over the years after rewrites and re-rewrites and more shoots and a couple bottles of wine and a year off to try to find financing for some unrelated project or another that inevitably fell apart because, it being an Orson Welles project, it falls apart.
Given that people kept taking his movies away from him and editing them without his say (The Magnificent Ambersons, A Touch of Evil, Mr. Arkadin and….ah, go look it up yourself. The list goes on and on), he deliberately mislabeled film cans, and misnumbered the reels and stashed them in his houses and with friends all over the world. When he died, he was the only one who knew where they were, and what sequence the stuff was supposed to go in.
His long-term girlfriend/muse, Oja Kodar (Not her real name. He just made it up one day when filming The Trial) decided to try to assemble the film. Using her own stash of footage, and what she could scour from storage units and boxes in the basement,  she combined this with other footage other people had in a noble (And possibly cash-grabbing) attempt to finish “When are you going to finish Don Quixote.”
Problem #1 – the footage was shot at random times in 35mm, 16mm, and possibly 8mm. Whatever Orson had handy at the time. Hence wildly inconsistent picture quality
Problem #2 – nobody knew the damn story.
Problem #3 – one of the guys who Orson entrusted some of the film to refused to let Oja have it. Specifically, he had the batch involving the movie theater sequence I told you about above.
They set about trying to polish a turd anyway, and here begins the actual movie review portion of this movie review. It’s also where it stops being interesting.
There is exactly one good scene in this: Don Quixote is riding along and sees a woman on a Vespa (It’s actually Orson’s then-wife). He goes batshit and attacks it, while Sancho keeps trying to explain what it is, and the woman fights him off.  “Say, this isn’t so bad,” I though.
nope. Nope, nope, it’s terrible. virtually unwatchable. Definitely unwatchable at normal speed. It is so bad that everyone who’s seen it who knew Orson has said that it is *not* his movie.
You want proof? Ok: there’s a Tilting At Windmills sequence.
Yeah, that’s right. Since they couldn’t use the Movie Theater sequence, they went ahead and put in the only sequence Orson specifically said he didn’t want in his movie. It’s worse yet: they actually sent out a second unit to get footage of windmills, dubbed some dialog about them turning in to giants, did a cheesy CGI-manipulated image of a windmill growing and starting to change shape, threw in some cheezy stills.  Ugh. It’s just terrible.
Gross Gott im himmel, this is just an awful film. How does it fail? Let me count the ways:
1) Picture quality is just all over the place, owing to the random film stock used. Much of it appears somewhat degraded.
2) The dubbing his hilariously bad. Some of it was done by Orson himself (As I said, he tended to work silent), but most is done by random talentless goofuses who often don’t even come close to synching up with the lips. It’s actually worse when Orson shows up voicing Sancho for a scene or two, because, well, partially it’s awful because Sancho randomly changes voices, but it’s also terrible because a few moments of good dubbing only serve as seasoning to point out the flavor of the bad dubbing.  The same is true of the somewhat random and intrusive narration.
3) The film is too freakin’ long by half. I’m not exaggerating. You probably could have made an interesting – but not really *good* – hour long film out of the available material. Padding it up to 90 minutes might be acceptable, but Good Lord, two hours? Two Hours?
They used EVERY SCRAP of second unit footage they had to pad this misbegotten bastard out. There are endless long shots of horses and riders moving slowly along the horizon, with voiceover dialog. There’s a sequence of Quixote attacking some creepy Catholic ceremony involving priests or whatever that look like KKK members at a rally. It sets up forever, and then pays off instantly and embarasingly like a 16 year old on prom night. There is a sequence that goes on for more than ten minutes in which Sancho wanders around a festival, attempting to ask where he can find a TV.
Everyone here who thinks Orson intended between ten and fifteen minutes of his movie to be about a halfwit trying to find a TV, raise their hands.
No? I didn’t think so.  Obviously it was intended for a montage or something. But they whole megila is in here. As such
4) it is really, really boring. It took me three tries to stay awake.
5) There’s no real soundtrack beyond the badly dubbed dialog. No music, little foley or sound effects. It sounds antiseptic.
6) In order to connect scenes that weren’t intended to go together, much of the dialog was obviously made up by whomever assembled this mess, and isn’t authentic to the project.
7) The editing is choppy as hell. It feels like it was done by a first year communications major, or a Public Access TV tech who’s on his first solo flying the editing board. Having been both a first year communications major AND the director of a Public Access show, I know what I’m talking about there. It sucks. If it’s Orson Welles, but it looks like something I could have chopped together, then it sucks. Remember: I’m a guy who hosted and produced a local TV show where a Barney impersonator slaughtered a child on TV.
Ah, the 90s.
But I digress:
As if all this isn’t bad enough, they STILL don’t have enough material. Thus they created a film-within-a-film subplot in which Orson Welles himself turns up, making a movie about Don Quixote. This is composed entirely of archive footage of Orson from various different periods in his life (Seriously: His girth changes massively between shots), but it comes to nothing. And it makes no logical sense.  And one of the things we know for a fact is that Orson had no intention of appearing in this film. They may as well have shot a short feature about Battlestar Galactica and crammed it in the second act, and it would hve fit just about as well.
Finally, one of the intriguing things in both versions of the film (The TV script, and the extant footage of the movie) was Dulcinea. In the novel, she’s the town whore, but Quixote is convinced she’s some noble, virtuous lady to whom he owes his heart and gallantry and that kind of hoo-hah. In Welles’ versions she’s a young girl. There’s nothing romantic about it in this version, she’s just a child, and he’s child-like with senility and Sancho is child-like in his idiocy, so they form a sort of heroic and innocent trio. Well, since the movie theater sequence was cut, Oja (or whomever) decided to cut every single scene involving the girl. Hence one of the major characters is gone, and in her place we have the Don going on about his love for a character we never see, and Sancho repeatedly implying that she’s the town whore.
Sigh.
The script *appears* to be mostly from the “Go to the moon” phase. I base that on the moon turning up in dialog a lot, and Sancho buying a telescope at one point. The final line of dialog is Quixote saying “There’s nothing wrong with technology, just with people allowing themselves to be governed by it.”  Where did that come from? Then the movie abruptly stops, we get some more random second unit footage, the narrator tells us that Orson’s ashes were scattered over Spain, and, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart.
The end.